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Paul Zhen

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It is with great pleasure GlamModelz Magazine presents an interview with photographer: Paul Zhen of Zhen Images. Paul is taking the world by storm and GlamModelz Magazine is fortunate to be able to present this exclusive interview.
GlamModelz Magazine: Let’s get started!  Tell me about your background…how did you get started in Photography?  Paul Zhen: I picked up the camera in college in the 1980’s. I learned everything on my own including black and white film processing and enlarging. I shot weddings, portraits and model portfolios; however I found that my natural talents tended to be around portfolio work.   I majored in graphic design for a while which really helped me to “see” shape, color, composition, and other design elements that I was able to incorporate into photography. To this day I look at how the entire image looks vs. just the model.

What happened, though, is that I decided to go the “responsible” route, got a master’s degree in business, and sold all my equipment in 1990. I’ve had a great career in business and picked up the camera again about four years ago when my father passed away and left me his Canon camera and lenses.

At that point I bought a Canon 5D MK II body, began shooting again, upgraded my equipment, and worked on refining my style. It’s been quite a wonderful experience working in the digital world and with Photoshop! What used to cost thousands of dollars and a professional lab can now be done on my computer. And all those drawing and graphic design classes have greatly helped me to finish images to perfection!

Since then I’ve been shooting all over the U.S. as well as during my recent trip to Italy. I have been fortunate to be published in print and on websites. I continue to learn a lot from other photographers, models, designers, make up and hair stylists. Successful photography is really a team sport!


Liz Ashley and Jessi JuneGlamModelz Magazine: Why Glamour/Beauty/Fashion?  What other genre’s and styles interest you? Paul Zhen: I pretty much fell into this genre. The rest has been momentum due to demand. I love the female form and bringing out a woman’s natural beauty to her benefit as well as that of the product she may be selling. I have found myself combining the elements of glamour into fashion images. I think it can be very compelling.

I chose the images included on this site to show the many genres and styles that I shoot.  Personally, I love more complex and visually intriguing creations. I really enjoy dramatic editorial images or those that convey a story or mood.

For instance, though I shoot “Victoria’s Secret, Maxim or Playboy” style lingerie and nudes for clients, those tend to be more formulaic; the publication or client expects a very specific look and the focus tends to be the subject herself.

When I have more creative leeway, I apply more of my personal style which introduces more background context, visual complexity and mood. “The Emperor’s Gift” shows a woman who only has a Chinese robe barely covering her. Is she the gift to the Emperor? Is she waiting for him as her new lover? “Desert Heat”, appropriately shot in Las Vegas, Nevada, is an art nude shot as the sun was setting. It celebrates the shape of the model’s body while at the same time conveying erotic tension. Her softness is in contrast to the sharp hardness of the desert floor and the backlight. “Ponte Rialto”, which I shot just two weeks ago in Venice, is a study in color, contrast, and composition rather than a simple shot of a woman in a gondola. It is a modern interpretation of old Venice as indicated by her dress and surroundings.

Fire and Water

paul-zhen_25GlamModelz Magazine: What or who inspires you as a photographer?  Paul Zhen: I have been greatly inspired and influenced by renaissance masters such as Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo and the use of chiaroscuro (lights and darks). One purpose of my trip to Italy was to further study their work. One can see their influence in many of my images which use a lot of dramatic shadows and color.

For 1930’s and 1940’s genre photography, the work of George Hurrell shaped how I shoot those portraits. Olivia De Berardinis and Alberto Vargas are my go-to references when I work on pinups.

Studying the work of Annie Liebovitz has helped me look at light in a different way. And amazing photographers such as Ellen von Unwerth have shown me the power of subtle eroticism behind some image concepts.

Great locations have sometimes gotten my creative juices flowing. During a shoot, a model who really “gets” the concept and knows how to “be” the character creates tremendous chemistry and inspiration.


paul-zhen_23GlamModelz Magazine: What was your funniest experience shooting in the field?  Paul Zhen: I was shooting a nude set with a very experienced and wonderful model. At one point I was searching for another concept. She suggested, “Why don’t we do it on that side of the bed where my boyfriend and I were this morning?”

I was momentarily embarrassed then cracked up laughing. We shot on that side of the bed and those images turned out to be terrific!

Humor is a wonderful way to break the ice during a shoot so everyone is comfortable. Sometimes the model uses it on me.

During one shoot I was fiddling with my camera and looking toward the floor when I noticed the model’s feet appear as she approached me. I looked up just in time for her to drop her clothing. “I feel so much more comfortable with nothing on!” she exclaimed as she smirked then flashed a great smile. It was enough to break the ice and got me laughing.
paul-zhen_12GlamModelz Magazine: What challenges do you face in this industry?  What would you change about it, if you could?  Paul Zhen: Finding editors who will take the time to look at a photographer’s work and provide opportunities to be published. Paying one’s dues is a difficult process. I am grateful in that I have other resources that have sustained me while I have been building my business.

Websites and publications such as GlamModelz is one positive change that is taking hold. Venues such as this opens opportunities that were not available even a few years ago. So if I could change anything, it would be to find better ways to get promising photographers needed exposure and employment opportunities!


GlamModelz Magazine: What equipment is essential for you as a photographer, to capture your “best shot”?  Paul Zhen: The right light modifiers to get the image I have created in my mind tends to be high on my priority list. As photography is primarily about interpreting light and shadow, shaping, capturing, and/or creating the light is the most critical element. This can be as simple as a reflector or a complicated mixed light solution.

Right now my favorite light modifiers are made by Rotalux. I also use a delightfully small and light beauty dish made by Brandon Cruz of Lumodi with a grid built by Nick Miletich of Honeycomb grids. It is only 11″ and mere ounces but has produced amazing images for me while taking very little space when I am on the road.

Of course one has to have the right lights to drive those modifiers where needed. In the past I have had great success using the “strobist” approach with Canon 580 EXII’s. As my power requirements increased, I changed to using Elinchrom Quadras for a portable solution that offers more power as well as color and exposure accuracy.

I currently use a Canon 5D MK II camera which has a full frame sensor. I match it up with Canon’s best “L” lenses. They are pricey but the resulting image clarity, color and contrast are superb.

paul-zhen_27GlamModelz Magazine: What inspires and motivates you when selecting locations for a glamour shoot, over a fashion shoot? Paul Zhen: I look for a unique setting that helps create the subtlety (and sometimes not so subtlety) sensuous mood as a “frame” for the model.

In addition, I look for consistency between the location and the lingerie, swimwear or other clothing (if any!) the model is wearing. For instance, for a modern and edgy look I really enjoyed the panoramic room at the Vdara Hotel in Las Vegas. There was great light, European interior design, and a clean look. This was combined with elegant lingerie and styling that visually tied everything together.

I also attempt to avoid the bedroom if at all possible. Glamour already projects some sexual undertones so I prefer to let the model convey that rather than rely on the obvious.

For outdoor shots, I try to find more “epic” locations such as the dry lake bed in North Las Vegas, Nevada or the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy.

My style tends to blend glamour and fashion so some of the locations work for both. It’s the lighting, poses, clothing and finishing work that can make a clean break between the two.


paul-zhen_14GlamModelz Magazine: What are your goals for your photography?  Other goals?   Paul Zhen: I would like to be an internationally known fashion/commercial/glamour photographer like Ellen von Unwerth and Annie Leibovitz. I would shoot for advertisers in top fashion magazines such as Vanity Fair or Vogue as well as the publications themselves. Traveling and shooting internationally to create images that are artistically sound and drive business to my clients would be a true joy!

I also love to teach. So at some point I would enjoy sharing my knowledge with others.


GlamModelz Magazine: What qualities should Models/MUA’s/Stylists, etc have to work with you?   Paul Zhen: The most important quality is a willingness to work with me on details. I am a perfectionist and believe that a great image is the result of careful and thorough pre-planning. So I ask a lot of questions, sort through numerous concepts, and work down to the details. This can include even reminding the stylist to remove price stickers from the bottom of shoes or ensure a bra that compliments the color of a garment that may be somewhat see-through (I have experiences of model underwear mishaps that I had to fix in Photoshop!).  The idea is to have things so well set up that the actual shoot goes smoothly and everyone can enjoy the actual process of capturing the image.

Another quality is a sense of “teamness”. A great image is the result of everyone synergistically combining their specific talents. So I prefer working with people who understand that and focus on getting the image. It’s not about the model, the stylist, or me. It’s about creating the perfect image. When I choose to work with a model, MUAH, or stylist, they are selected because I already know he/she is bringing the specific talent the shoot needs to the table. As such, it’s not just about skill or look; rather it is also about how well the team can meld to get the right result.

Finally, a sense of humor. Personally, I have a warped sense of humor! I enjoy bantering during shoots because it relaxes everyone.


paul-zhen_19GlamModelz Magazine: What advice do you have for new/amateur photographers? Paul Zhen: Spend time studying great images and learn how to “reverse engineer” the lighting solution. Then experiment until one can duplicate those results. After a while, certain general lighting solutions will reveal themselves that one can tuck away for future use. Keep a journal of how one captured and finished certain images. Include both successes and failures. The journal becomes an excellent tool to learn from.

Study graphic design to understand basic design elements such as color, composition, lines, etc. A great image puts these pieces together.

Learn how to finish an image well in Photoshop. There is a lot of pushback right now in the business regarding how much to retouch a model. Though it is politically correct to minimize retouching, the fact is photography is a two dimensional interpretation of three dimensional objects; as such, the only way to get models and things to look the way they do in real life is during capture (through angles, lighting, lens choice, etc.) or post-production in Photoshop.

I have seen some really good images that were captured well but could have been great images if the photographer had known how to finish it properly.


paul-zhen_02GlamModelz Magazine: What advice do you have for new models who want to model? Paul Zhen: Understand that models are also actors to a point. A great model knows how to move and project the desired look by taking on the persona of the character that is needed. So practice expressions and poses consistent with various looks.

Carefully select the photographer you will be using to create your first few image sets. Most models start by doing trades with photographers; however, some of those photographers may also be starting out. The result can be mediocre images that will not help the model to get the images needed to go to the next level or be recognized. So try to find experienced photographers who are willing to do a trade. Look at photographer websites or places like Model Mayhem, and find a portfolio you really like. Then just ask.

Personally, I am willing to do trades for newer models who have a look I require for a project. That said, I find that it is best to work with models who have enough experience to feel comfortable in front of the camera and can deliver the look. I carefully track percentages of useable images. Experienced models can deliver a high percentage even when a low number of images are shot.

If the model can afford it, paying a great photographer early on not only yields strong images, but also can be a wonderful learning experience because the photographer can correctly coach the model. When I started, I hired the best models I could find. That allowed me to concentrate on creating the image and experiment with my equipment and lighting without worrying about teaching or coaching her.  The result were images that still represent some of my best work. They helped me to develop my skills and style quickly. Those images then allowed me to work with other talented models on a trade basis to round out my portfolio. This same approach can work in reverse to the benefit of the model.

GlamModelz Magazine: In addition to photography, do you have other skills/interests/talents in which you excel? Do you have any special charities you donate work for and why?  Paul Zhen: I am an avid public speaker, do some acting on the side, and continue to apply my business skills. I am also an instrument rated private pilot and scuba diver (I am planning on shooting aircraft and underwater images in the future!)

I regularly contribute to church charities and have a special interest in organizations that help neglected or abused children.
Fire and Water

GlamModelz Magazine: What other interesting facts would you like GlamModelz readers to know about you?   Paul Zhen: A model who shoots glamour, especially nude, implied or lingerie, is putting herself in a vulnerable position. So my wife, who is a make up artist/hair stylist, works with me in Tennessee or when she travels with me. This goes far in establishing a comfortable environment. If she is not there, there is at least another MUAH or assistant present. I welcome escorts as long as he/she is willing to lend a hand!

I have travel to various cities for shoots so even if a model can’t make it to Nashville, she can still contact me to see if something can be arranged.

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Paul Zhen

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GlamModelz.com Magazine,The most Fabulous site on the Internet, where HOTNESS Hangs!! GlamModelz magazine offers an unbiased perspective into Glamour, Beauty and Art Photography Modeling.

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GlamModelz.com Magazine,The most Fabulous site on the Internet, where HOTNESS Hangs!! GlamModelz Magazine is a pictorial exposé geared towards working professionals in today’s glamor industry. We are internationally cultured, inspired and dedicated to showcasing the cutting edge works of today’s market, while also providing useful information for those wishing to make their break into the modeling industry. GlamModelz magazine offers an unbiased perspective into Glamour, Beauty and Art Photography Modeling. GlamModelz Magazine has published 294, articles with GlamModelz Magazine.

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